Cardiff flats fire safety funding offer 'insulting'

By Paul Martin
BBC Wales Live

Media caption,
"They have a moral responsibility"

People living in high-rise flats that failed fire safety tests say an offer from the developer to loan funds for improvements "adds insult to injury".

Tests at the Celestia complex in Cardiff Bay, developed by Redrow, found faults including "very poor or non-existent" fire barriers between flats.

Residents said uncertainty over how millions of pounds of work would be paid for has caused misery.

Redrow said it would provide an interest-free loan for the work.

South Wales Fire and Rescue Service ordered repairs to be made within 12 months.

The Celestia Action Group, made up of leaseholders and residents, said it wanted Redrow to commit to put faults right immediately, without a cost to leaseholders.

Celestia Management Company Ltd, which runs the complex, is currently arranging for repairs to be done.

There are more than 450 flats in the development, which is made up of seven high-rise blocks built between 2005 and 2007.

Tests earlier this year found:

  • "very poor or non-existent" compartmentation measures, which are design features meant to stop fire spreading internally
  • "missing or defective" external fire cavity barriers
  • some use of timber cladding and insulation that does not meet the required standards

What are Redrow doing about it?

Redrow said the fire service required two areas of work to be completed within the next 12 months, internal fire stopping - or compartmentation - and an improved evacuation plan.

It said it "did not design or construct" the buildings, but it has been working with managing agents and has "put forward a proposal to provide funding for the works to comply with the enforcement notice".

It added it was also installing a new fire alarm system to replace fire patrols.

"We do appreciate the residents have been particularly concerned over the safety of the building in the event of a fire," the company said.

"The proposals we have tabled largely address these concerns and should give them the reassurances they seek."

What do residents say?

Image caption,
Residents Valerie Livingston (L) and Denise Currell (R) are worried their flats are not safe

The Celestia Action Group said Redrow's "warm words do not go nearly far enough towards improving the situation".

"Wales' largest housebuilder needs to commit fully to a comprehensive improvement plan at no additional cost to residents and leaseholders," a spokesperson said.

Residents have also complained about other problems with the buildings, sewage pipe leaks and concerns over the safety of balconies.

'Stressed, worried and frightened'

Valerie Livingston has lived at Celestia since 2011 and said "everyone should feel safe in their home and at the moment I can't say I always do".

"We decided to start a family and we planned to move to a family home. That was when we found out there were problems when we approached an estate agent to say 'will you list our property?'"

Ms Livingston said the agent declined as they were concerned about "various problems" within the development, relating initially to cladding and subsequently to fire compartmentation.

"I'm very heavily pregnant, I do feel quite vulnerable and I would say that's on Redrow," she said.

Denise Currell bought a flat at Celestia in 2012 and said people there were feeling "stressed, worried and frightened".

"We always had a stay-put policy, we were told the flats were safe to stay in until we were rescued," she said.

"And all of a sudden the advice was, 'no, we need to get out' because with the fire-stopping missing the fire can spread from apartment to apartment more quickly than we would have anticipated."

Ms Currell said some residents had been told their flats cannot be mortgaged.

Laing O'Rourke, the company contracted by Redrow to build the complex, said it was in discussions with the management company.

South Wales Fire and Rescue Service said that during August and October it "issued a number of enforcement notices to rectify internal compartmental deficiencies and access issues".

It added that it acknowledged the "commitment" of Celestia and Parkmans, which runs the complex for Celestia Management Company Ltd, to "address the fire safety provisions".

The service was providing "home safety advice to minimise the potential for a fire starting within these private domestic dwellings," it said.

Celestia Management Company Ltd said it needed "clarification" from Redrow before it could consider or further comment on the proposals made.

It said Redrow had "made no comment on the other significant defects" including external fire safety defects, defective render, defective roof anchors and defective balconies.

You can see more on this story on Wales Live at 22:30 BST on Wednesday on BBC One Wales and on the BBC iPlayer.